Teenaged Dutch talent Rinus VeeKay arrived at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with a seven-point deficit to Canadian rival Parker Thompson in their battle for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
Following two impressive victories this weekend at Mid-Ohio, VeeKay left the Buckeye State with a 25-point championship lead.
On the heels of an impressive sweep of the two most recent races on the streets of Toronto two weeks ago, VeeKay, who finished second in last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, produced another copybook performance in race one to score a convincing victory.
VeeKay’s fifth win of the season vaulted him into the championship lead with four races remaining.
David Malukas, from Chicago, Ill., finished second for BN Racing as VeeKay’s Juncos Racing teammate, Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., maintained his run of success with a second successive podium finish.
VeeKay made clear his intentions Friday afternoon when he secured pole position for the 12th round of the 16-race championship. He duly took off into the lead, while behind him an intense battle for second at the first corner saw Megennis, who started fifth, dive to the inside of Thompson, who had qualified third. Brazilian Carlos Cunha, driving a third Juncos Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18, also was in the thick of the battle.
The leaders emerged from Turn One in the order of VeeKay, Malukas, Megennis, Thompson, and Cunha. Then, at the end of the back straight, Thompson also found himself under pressure from Cunha. He fought off that initial attack but was unable to prevent Cunha from finding a way past into fourth a couple of laps later following an opportunistic outside-line run at Turn Five which finally gave Cunha the preferred inside line for Turn Six.
There was precious little to choose between the top five drivers, who traded fastest lap honors on virtually every lap before VeeKay sealed the honor – worth a potentially vital additional championship point – with a new lap record of 1:16.3310 (an average speed of 106.494mph) with five laps remaining.
Malukas slipped back a little in the closing stages, eventually finishing 2.8753 seconds behind, with Megennis, who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award, taking third, just over a second in arrears. Cunha narrowly fended off Thompson for fourth, aiding his teammate’s quest for the championship, while Oliver Askew finished sixth for Cape Motorsports.
Brazilian Felipe Drugovich, who leads this year’s EuroFormula Open Championship, and Colombian Mathias Soler-Obel, stepping up from USF2000, finished seventh and eighth on their Pro Mazda debuts for RP Motorsport Racing.
In race number two on Sunday, the gifted 17-year-old from Hoofddorp, Netherlands, took victory and now has won four races in a row (and six in total) to extend his lead in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
Teammate Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., shadowed VeeKay throughout the 25-lap contest to claim his third consecutive podium finish as Oliver Askew, last year’s winner of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, finished third for Cape Motorsports.
After qualifying on pole, David Malukas (BN Racing), from Chicago, Ill., maintained his edge at the start despite intense pressure from the trio of Juncos Racing cars in the hands of VeeKay, Megennis and Brazilian Carlos Cunha, who also retained championship aspirations of his own.
Cunha had fought his way past fellow title hopeful Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport) at the first corner, but his attempts to wrest away third place from Megennis at Turn Four on the opening lap ended with a long journey over the grass which dropped him to the back of the field.
Malukas set a torrid pace at the front but even then remained only 1.4 seconds clear of VeeKay when his car ground to a halt with an undiagnosed mechanical problem with just seven laps in the books.
VeeKay inherited the lead and initially seemed to have a slight edge over teammate Megennis. But at right around the halfway stage in the 25-lap race, Megennis’ car came to life, enabling him to narrow the gap to just a couple of car lengths.
Their battle continued unabated following a brief full-course caution to remove Cunha’s car, which had stopped on the track with a fuel pump failure, but Megennis was never quite able to muster enough pace to make a pass.
VeeKay duly took the checkered flag 1.3735 seconds clear to record his fourth successive victory and extend his championship lead to 25 points, 320-295, over Thompson, who could manage only a sixth-place finish.
“I knew the first lap would be the most important, but David had a good jump on me and drove away,” VeeKay noted. “I saw he pulled off the track – I felt sad for him, to lose a win like that, but I’m happy for myself in the championship. I drove in my mirrors the whole race as Rob was really quick. But the team did a great job to have three great cars on the grid and four podiums this weekend.
“The team has worked so hard these past few races and it gives me so much confidence that I can push harder and harder. I’m so happy with where things are right now so to give them two wins here and a big lead in the championship feels really great.”
Oliver Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., finished a similar distance farther back in third for Cape Motorsports, despite a late challenge from Team Pelfrey’s Sting Ray Robb.
After losing out to charging Brazilian Pro Mazda debutant Felipe Drugovich (RP Motorsport Racing) on the opening lap, the youngster from Payette, Idaho, stalked his rival closely – while remaining under intense pressure from Thompson – until making a fine overtaking maneuver which began with an outside-line move at Turn Four and was finally completed on the inside at Turn Five.
Robb then tried to make a similar move on Askew with three laps remaining, only to be rebuffed. He had to settle for a nonetheless impressive fourth ahead of Drugovich, who claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting from ninth on the grid, and a frustrated Thompson.
Ricardo Juncos claimed his sixth PFC Award as the winning car owner.
The Pro Mazda title-chase moves next to Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., for the series’ second oval track event of the year on August 25.
Images and content courtesy of the Mazda Road to Indy.